Sacking Sacco: Pros and Cons

It's the talk of the Avalanche Nation right now - whether Sacco should stick around or be let go.  At this point, everyone seems to have an opinion one way or the other.  But let's all step off our bandwagons here for a minute and take a second look at the issue.  Both sides explained after the jump....

Fire Sacco:

-Over the past 3 seasons, he's shown a fairly constant inability to change game tactics mid-game when it's clear they aren't working. Instead deviating from the system, such as switching to a puck-possession mindset instead of dump-and-chase one or using a different press-break to slip past forecheckers and not get owned in the neutral zone, he's consistently stuck with the same-old even when it's very apparent that game-in-game-out it's failing miserably.

-The penalty kill is an atrocious #28 at 75.0%. Teams are able to pass the puck straight through our defending "box", rendering it completely ineffective and leaving poor Varly and Giggy out to dry. The key to the penalty kill is keeping the puck to the outside where the lower percentage shots are, and obviously what we are doing now isn't working. Our goaltenders are good enough to take care of most of those shots this year - something else must be wrong. We look like we're just standing around half the time, not moving our feet and allowing the other team's players to dipsy-doodle around us. Perhaps it is the players not executing the plan, but in the 3 years Sacco's been here, the PK% have been 75.0% (#28, 2011-12), 76.1% (#30, 2010-11), and 80.2% (#21, 2009-10). Given the high rotation of players we've had during that time, it starts to point more at a coaching system issue than a player one.

-The doghouse method is strange. A lot of the time, there's no rhyme or reason to it. For example, Duchene, playing on the 4th line? I understand trying to keep you star player in the lineup even if he's having a dry spell, but how is putting him with the "offensive dynamos" Jay McClement and Cody McLeod helping him? Benching him due to unstellar play - that I could understand. But Dutchy is a known passer who needs people he can give-and-go with to be successful. Despite the leadership merrits/ energy hits / somewhat decent defense that the Mc's provide, their offensive skills leave quite a bit to be desired. Playing Duchene with them was just a strange, strange move. And it's not the first time something like that has happened. The doghouse technique just seems random, vindictive, too hasty, and ineffective most of the time.

-The constant line shuffling is another area of concern. While shaking lines up when they're not playing well can be a very good tactic, Sacco's constant merry-go-round of players has started to become a problem. Except in rare cases, chemistry is not an instantaneous occurrence - it needs a little time for it to gel, for players to figure out what to expect from each other. How are they expected to find that when they're playing with completely new guys every single game? Duchene moved to Stastny's wing for the Dallas game and scored a hat trick. Pretty effective, no? But after half the next game, he was back to playing center and it took until the 3rd period of the next game for him to move back (he scored :26 after getting there, btw).  Maybe he'll stay there, but based on Sacco's trends, probably not.  Moving people around like that was a necessity last season when there was a new injury every night, but this year, we've been relatively healthy {knocks vigorously on wood}. Pick something and stick with it for a few games. Even if it doesn't work, at least the lines were given a chance to come together.

-Is Sacco doing all that he can to encourage them to play their best game? The perpetual "We didn't start on time" or "we didn't play our game for a full 60 minutes" are starting to get old. After three years of hearing that, perhaps it's time to get someone who knows how to change it. One of the coach's most important jobs is to motivate players. Due to the lackluster play for typically 30 minutes or more each game, is he doing his job? Sacco's calm demeanor could act as a stabilizing presence for all the young players, but since the Avs seem to play best when they're fired up, maybe it's time for this team to find someone that pulls a Bobby Knight every once and a while.

Keep Sacco:

-He's extremely well liked by the players. Even last year when things weren't going too well, players like O'Byrne and EJ went out of their way to compliment him. His doghouse methods, while unorthodox and sometimes infuriating from a fan's standpoint, seem to really work in some cases - it helped Liles, Stewart, Galiardi and others find their game again.  He was nominated for the Jack Adams his first year for his ability to take a young team and make playoffs. Even earlier this year, there was Sacco for Jack Adams talk. Even though he has his ups and downs, is he really a terrible coach or just a decent coach in a "less than oustanding" situation?

-He's winning. This isn't exactly a team chock-full of All-Star talent either. Ask a hockey fan from another team to name the players on the current Avalanche roster, and they'd probably look at you and say ".....uh, Duchene?" and leave it at that. And Mr. Uh Duchene was pretty much missing in action for the first 10 games. The Avs are in the middle of a rebuild, are one of the youngest teams in the league, have a scary lack of Top 6 wingers, are so close to the cap floor that once false move will put us under it, and are already dealing with some injury problems. We're at 47 MGL right now, which includes one of our Top 6 wings. To be at .500 and just 2 pts from the playoff race despite some of the bumps this club has faced so far is pretty impressive.

-Our powerplay is OMG good. Even though I'm sure baby seals will continue to disagree, 27.1% over 17 games is a pretty good total, even if our numbers were padded a bit from our little trip to see Andy earlier this year. And it's not just been this season. Last year, we finished 11th overall (18.5%) despite the unnatural second half collapse. And the year before that? #15 at 18.1%. There has been a marked improvement each year when it comes to our power-play conversions. I definitely think Sacco had something to do with that.

-Who are we going to get to replace him if he goes? Unless there is some sort of coaching style rift we aren't aware of, is Lefebvre or Deadmarsh really going to do a better job than Sacco? Neither have head coaching experience, Lefebvre's been behind the bench just as long as Sacco has, and this is Deader's first year as a benchboss. The next two on the list (judging by this organization's desire to "Build from Within") are David Quinn and Patrick Roy. Well, it looks like Quinn just managed to get some things under control down in Erie despite an early season slide - do we really want destabilize our prospect's team again while they're still dealing with injuries? And Roy is the co-owner, GM, and head coach of the QMJHL Quebec Remparts, so prying him away from that especially mid-season is going to be hard. But if we go out of the system, who's available? Most of the good coaches have settled into a job somewhere - unless we're really hankering to get Davis Payne in here, the there aren't a lot of qualified/experienced coaches out there right now. Even the good AHL/CHL/NCAA coaches that we might lure away probably won't want to make the jump until this summer. Who is out there that will really be an upgrade over what we already have?

-How many of this team's problems can really be laid at Sacco's feet? A coach can't score goals, block shots, or even make a player play better. He's only there to teach, to advise, and to, you know, coach. There are nights when even the best coaches in the world can't figure out a way to make their team play well. Like I've said before, they can only lead a horse to water - they can't force it to drink. Is the unmotivated play/turnovers/technical and mental errors really Sacco's fault, or is he the one taking the blame for a much deeper issue?  If we get rid of Sacco, will anything really change?

-Right now, the defense is really the aspect of the team that's struggling.  Even though Sacco is in charge of creating the overall system, the actual running of the D is more in the hands of Assistant Coach Sylvain Lefebvre.  Sacco may be the face of the entire coaching staff, there are 3 coaches on the bench for a reason.  Maybe we shouldn't be pointing the finger at Sacco - maybe we should be aiming it at the only former defenseman in the group instead.  

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